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In Bridesburg, a festive Memorial Day parade

Ed Dubeck, 89, knows about fighting the good fight.

Ed Dubeck, 89, knows about fighting the good fight.

During World War II, he served in some of the Pacific's bloodiest battles. He was decorated with two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart. When he came home to his beloved Bridesburg, he worked with other former servicemen to turn the neighborhood's Memorial Day Parade into the crowd-drawing event it is today.

But earlier this year, Dubeck crossed paths with an adversary the likes of which he had not encountered before: a major stroke. It left him unable to walk. He feared he would miss this year's parade.

On Monday, Dubeck thwarted the enemy. Accompanied by granddaughter Nicole Dubeck in her formal Navy whites and Joe Arason, a comrade from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, the former Marine made it through the parade route in his wheelchair. People waved little American flags and cheered.

"My friends, my family and my nurses - they were all pushing for me," Dubeck, the parade's chief marshal, said later.

No one has to explain to people from Bridesburg why you don't miss the parade.

Said by some to be the area's biggest Memorial Day event of its kind, the parade draws family and friends from near and far every year to honor those who gave their lives and celebrate the living.

It is also a celebration of Bridesburg, a close-knit, working class neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia proud of its string bands, a place where American flags and Flyers' banners fly side by side from rowhome front porches.

"It's a small-town feel in a big-city environment," said Wes Perkowski, 39, a Port Richmond native who lives in Deptford and has been coming to the Bridesburg parade for years.

Like seemingly everyone along the parade route, Perkowski, a software manager, was heading to a family barbecue later in the day. But the day would not be complete without the parade.

"If you're part of Bridesburg you have to go to the parade. Show your true colors," said Carol Niemiec, 48, a nurse assistant.

She moved to the neighborhood with her family when she was 21. She said she wouldn't think of living anywhere else.

"It's very family-oriented," she said. "Everybody's looking out for everybody."

Debbie Kubacki, 40, wouldn't miss the parade either, hanging out Monday on the sidelines with a bunch of family and friends, including Danielle Ludwig, 28, whom she used to babysit as a teenager.

On Mother's Day weekend, Kubacki and a bunch of girlfriends held their own bar-hopping benefit to raise money for cancer research. It was in honor of Ludwig's aunt Charlene Ludwig, who died of pancreatic cancer. That's Bridesburg, she said, sticking together in good times and bad.

"People are just happy today," said Kubacki, an executive assistant. "We look forward every year to this."

Across Orthodox Street, the extended Dubeck clan was amassed in their traditional viewing spot. This year's family estimate was upwards of 50 people, some still in the neighborhood. Others came from New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia.

Nicole Dubeck, the granddaughter who accompanied Ed Dubeck, said it was her first time marching in the parade. But growing up, she and her family - her dad is Dubeck's son Nick, retired Navy - made the trip from Virginia for years.

"I loved it," she said. "Getting pretzels, marking our little territory."

On Monday, Ed Dubeck's great-grandchildren danced as marching string bands played. Over the years, Dubeck worked at making the parade a tradition for his family and Bridesburg.

"He lives his life for this parade," said Patty Gugliotta, one of Dubeck's daughters, who lives in Marlton and works as a legal secretary. "He wanted to give back to the community because he came home in one piece."

Said Karen Hickey, another daughter who lives in Bensalem and is an administrative assistant: "To him, this is the big day, even bigger than Veterans' Day, because of all his friends who died."

On Monday, the living remember. In the morning, buddies from the VFW post where the canteen door is named for Dubeck arrived at his home. They lifted him in his wheelchair and carried it outside. He was wheeled to the parade site. Earlier, VFW comrades built a ramp into the post so Dubeck could easily access the after-parade festivities.

Dubeck, who calls himself "one of the lucky ones," was moved and appreciative of those who helped him once again do what he considered to be the right thing.

"Memorial Day," he said, "should not be forgotten."